Meditations on the sound of silence
Caroline Sylger Jones finds inner peace in the stillness of a Rajasthan hotel that aims to cleanse body and mind
Iam sitting up in bed, propped by a cascade of soft white pillows, watching a yellow Indian sun rise over the hilltop outside my window. Mandalas created from fresh marigold petals grace my marble floor, and there are orange marigolds hand-painted on the walls to match. I am sipping “bed tea” – a ginger and black concoction left discreetly outside my room that morning alongside some hand-rolled oat and honey energy balls – and “journaling” my morning thoughts into a Moleskine notebook, a practice that helps you clear your head of thoughts, ready for the day. As my hand moves quickly across the page to let the dull, annoying and joyous things in my life out through ink, I feel a sense of liberation. After about 40 minutes, I pause.
This is my morning ritual each day in suite number 43 at Raas Devigarh, a splendid palace fortress above the large village of Delwara in Rajasthan, created in 1760 and now a hotel with elaborate ramparts to dream on and bowls of fresh marigold and rose petals at every turn. I’m here on a five-night “ila-only” Devi Blessing retreat, devised by British spa brand ila to be bespoke, private and bookable all year round for three, five or nine nights.
Named after the Indian goddess Devi, who is believed to represent all women, the retreats aim to recalibrate your whole system. They include daily two-hour treatments and two daily one-to-one (optional) sessions of yoga and meditation. You can also choose, as I have, to be supported in a period of silence.
Silence has been practised in almost all monastic traditions as a way of slowing down, reconnecting with the self and improving mental and physical health, and an increasing number of retreats in the West are including it as part of their menu. While being in silence can give us a real sense of peace, what’s more beneficial is the space it offers to find out what is really going on in our bodies and minds, away from everyday chatter and activity.
It’s important that we choose our silence, as the ancient desert hermits would have done, so that we feel in control of it and able to use it to our advantage rather than disappearing into a lonely space. I’ve experienced retreats in silence before, but they’ve been Buddhist in flavour and always communal, when you are supported in an organised setting and nourished by the energy of a group. My secular and solitary silence at Raas Devigarh is understandably and notably different. I’ve pre-ordered my meals, discussed my daily timetable with yoga and meditation teacher Faraz, been encouraged to journal each morning on rising, and then sent gently into silence for three of my five nights.
I quite quickly slip into a soothing routine of journaling, yoga, breakfast, treatment, down time, meditation, supper and bed. I find that because I am alone, Faraz’s intelligent and empathetic presence is vital to the success of my retreat. He reminds me to be “mindful” – to try to be aware of what I’m doing when I’m doing it and in the present moment – and I can talk to him about any practical concerns I might have at any time.
On Buddhist retreats, you are required not to read, draw or write, but I find that my reading, sketching and journaling here are a muchneeded solace and form of mindfulness. Being able to indulge in them becomes part of the pleasure of being silent at a hotel rather than on an organised retreat. I am, however, entirely happy – one might say infinitely joyous – to switch off my iPhone and computer.
After journaling each day I choose to do my own yoga practice on the palace’s wonderful top ramparts, with romantic views of the colourful village and countryside beyond. I’m often joined by a band of lime-green parakeets, who perch on the railings and joyously screech each time I move into a pose as if to say, “Hey guys! Just take a look at this one over here!” Guests new to yoga can instead have a private session with Faraz.
Next is a breakfast of a “pure alkaline” juice such as celery, cucumber and ginger, alongside a turmeric latte (very yummy), a huge pot of green tea, and eggs if I’m hungry, served courteously on the restaurant terrace by smiling white-suited waiters while I listen to an Indian flautist play in the spa garden below and focus on sketching to filter out the gentle chatter of guests.
At 10.30am I saunter to the ila-only spa, which is gracefully clad in marble, wood and pale green cushions strewn with ila’s signature heart chakra design. Here I enjoy a light steam and a chill in the salt cave stacked with Himalayan rock salt (I test it – it’s real) before an 11am, two-hour “Devi Blessing”. Chosen after a consultation to work on rebalancing whichever of my chakras appear most out of whack, most of the treatments pivot on a scrub and a massage and are infinitely relaxing and often sleepinducing. I am especially intrigued by the Prayer of the Earth, which is timetabled on my first day to ground me after the long journey, and requires me to sit on a “smoking stool” while frankincense burns beneath my innermost parts before I lie down for a deliciously deep, slow body rub.
I spend most afternoons horizontal, sunbathing and reading, or swimming multiple lengths in the huge blackmarbled pool. The call to prayer from Delwara at around 4.15pm rouses me to go back to my room and potter before changing for an early evening relaxation session of Yoga Nidra, Yin Yoga, meditation or chanting with Faraz. My favourite place for these is The Ram Room, a charming, opensided room named after the Hindu story of Rama and Sita, where the walls are scrawled with an elegant, ancient script – the handiwork of the
I do my yoga on the ramparts, joined by limegreen parakeets
CURES FOR THE SOUL Comfort and beauty help guests find mindfulness